I remember having dinner on a subway in New York City last year, after a long day in the office. I'd worked until after 9:00 pm. To reward myself, to keep myself going, I promised to do something special for dinner, instead of swallowing down a lukewarm slice on my rush to Penn Station to catch the train going home. So when the computer was turned off and the dark office left behind, I went downtown instead of uptown, to Baoguette, where I got a banh mi for dinner, stuffed with fresh herbs, crisp pickles, incendiary slices of jalapeño, hot sauce, and gossamer slices of pork and pâté. I know eating dinner on the subway is totally grody-to-the-max, but as I savored the spicy, sour, crunchy, creamy, crusty sandwich all by myself on a deserted subway back uptown (taking breaks to wipe my brow because - hoo boy - it was spicy), I didn't care in the least.
(By the time I left New York, my favorite banh mi in the city was actually Cambodian num pang, at the eponymously named Num Pang. Three words: Hoisin. Veal. Meatballs.)
All of this to say, I really, really like banh mi.
At the very recently opened Cô Cô at Rosenthaler Platz, banh mi are prepared by a gaggle of people working the counter, where the fillings are all arrayed neatly and rather antiseptically below a vitrine so you can watch the sandwich-making in action while you wait. The place itself is nicely furnished - it's sleeker than I expected, with communal tables and bar stools and fresh flowers, but also with great big baskets of fresh ginger and oranges for...atmosphere.
The sandwiches are quite nice - we tried the Special and the tomato meatball (which I liked best) - but they are completely and utterly lacking in heat. If you want your banh mi hot (isn't that sort of the point?), you have to specify that when you order your sandwich. After a few bites, I went back to the counter to ask for hot sauce and was given a little paper cup filled with sliced red chiles. Nowhere near the level of heat I was expecting, but certainly better than nothing.
It was disappointing - is the German aversion to spice really such that new businesses won't even try to slip a little bit in? Especially when it's an integral part of an authentic dish? Come on, people, be brave!
But the rest of the sandwich - the do chua (lightly pickled carrots and radish) was fresh and vibrant, the crusty baguette (made only with rice flour, apparently) was crispy and yielding in just the right places, and the meat fillings were aromatic and tasty - was fine. The house green tea is lovely - unsweetened, aromatic with ginger and served cool, it was the kind of thing I wish I had in big jugs to drink every day. It'd do a great job cooling off an over-heated tongue after a properly spicy banh mi, too. Wink wink.
Cô Cô is open until 10:00 pm and midnight on weekends.
To try next, banh mi at Kreuzberg's Babanbé...
Rosenthaler Strasse 2
(030) 246 30 595